The Story of Caste and Indian Campuses


Anoop Kumar

anoop with spectaclesHis speech at the talk organised by the Ambedkarite Students' Association at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, held on 22nd December, 2014. The speech has been transcribed by Valliammal Karunakaran.

My name is Anoop and I have been working on the issue of Dalit students in Indian campuses for almost 20 years now, first as a student then after completing my studies as an organizer. I have been involved in other activities too but mostly focus on students. About this topic – Indian campuses and caste, I share a very love-hate relationship with these campuses. The campuses, which I really want to destroy because I believe that these are not our spaces. But on the other hand, I also help our students to enter into these spaces. I teach students at Wardha since last two years. I have been teaching students for various entrance exams. I want them to get into these spaces but somehow I do not have the confidence that these educational spaces will provide justice to our students because the whole design of these spaces is very brahminical. And that has been my experience right from my engineering college days to JNU and afterwards. There is something in-built in these spaces which actually takes away the dignity of our students and makes them feel very left out and unwelcome. I will start with the example of TISS, the admission procedure of TISS, through which I will try to explain what I mean when I say that I hate these campuses and believe that these are inherently very brahminical spaces. It is a very big fight for us, it is a conflict whether I want these spaces to get diluted and become less brahminical or try to create a vision of an alternate space.

I've been teaching students in a small town in Maharashtra. So last year [2013], 24 students of mine sat for TISS entrance exam and all of them were from very humble backgrounds - SC, OBC and NT/DNT. None of them had an English medium schooling. What made me to ask them to sit for this exam was that there was no entrance fee for our students. Yet I had to goad them to fill the form. None of them knew about TISS. Once they came to know that the entrance exam will be in English, they were like, "No no, we just cannot sit in the exam, we cannot compete in this". So I had to goad them. A couple of my students are sitting here today. I had to force them to apply because I knew that they can compete, it's not that they can't compete. So they sat for the exam and after three months of labour, 12 of them were able to pass the preliminary written exam. Out of the 12, 5 students finally got through into TISS.


The Left and the Ambedkarite Movements need Debate and Unity


Chintu Kumari

(This open letter is her response to Chinmaya Mahanand's earlier letter to her)

Dear friend Chinmay,

I apologize for the delayed response. As you know I was very weak and unwell after the 16-day long hunger strike and under medication. Still, I don't feel completely well in terms of my health I attempt to write this considering the significance of our ongoing debate. At the outset itself, I would want to make one thing clear. My intention behind writing this has nothing to do with providing prompt and complete responses to all the questions you raised earlier. Nor do I, in my good senses, aspire to wrap up the larger debate by giving a comprehensive response here. Rather, my sole motive is to inquire into the possibility of a more meaningful and real discussion among the left and Ambedkarite activists and movements. I am searching for a truthful and honest space of debate between the two forces as the country in which we live, its constitution and the democratic structure are under attack from a fascist, Sanghi government. And I believe there is a need for all of us, the poor, the workers, the oppressed, the progressive intellectual class and the entire peace-loving people to resist this attack together.

ambedkar hands

Let me cite an experience I had and the questions it posed to me. During the rally we had organized to commemorate the Parinirvan Day of Dr. Ambedkar in JNU, I was shouting the slogans of "Jai Jai Jai Jai Bheem, Birsa-Phule-Ambedkar" followed by the one with "Marx-Lenin-Bhagat Singh". Suddenly I realized that with the latter slogan a number of students fell silent. This made me think throughout that night and many questions popped in my mind. Is it true that the leaders of some Dalit-Ambedkarite organizations would not even want to engage with the legacy of Marx, Lenin and Bhagat Singh? Didn't Ambedkar talk against capitalism and for the working classes? Or did Bhagat Singh, who represents the most inspiring strain of Marxism in India, not talk about the issue of caste discrimination by calling the Dalit community as the sleeping lion and urge them to rise and fight? You said that you respect Marx, Lenin and Mao. But when you talked about the 'caste-class enemies' I felt that you have mentioned the category of class without identifying what it entails. The non-Dalit, non-OBC toiling masses are not 'caste-class enemies' of the Dalit movement. Moreover without the liberation of the Dalits and women the liberation of these labourers is not possible. Without the annihilation of caste, one cannot even imagine the possibility of a revolution in India.


Workers of The World Unite- but those in Somalia & Attapadi stay back for we are Mallus


Georgy Kuruvila Roy

It seems like the dust has settled upon the Modi's Somalia remarks. But still an uneasy feeling continues to haunt us. It is as if something is still rotting after the competition is over and the winner was pronounced. The smell seems so strong that one is forced to look for the reason of this stinking odor. Finding it one has to sadly conclude that if there was anyone who lost in the battle between Kerala Pride and Modi's politics it is the tribals of Attapadi and funny as it may seem the Somalians.

pomonemodi 1

A meme on the debate from social media

When Modi made a comment equating the situation of the adivasis in Attapadi to Somalia, it seemed as if Malayalis couldn't stand it. The signifier that they hated was Somalia. Somalia has very pejorative meanings in Kerala. For instance if a person looks is skinny or lean he is teased as a person from Somalia- the image of the malnutritioned kid from Somalia. If someone's idea is seen as back ward by these "Kerala pride" comrades then he will be called as someone from Somalia. Somalia thus is a signifier which embodies the negative at its most monstrous or in other words it is not a positive signifier which would create in our mind the hope of let us say the signifier "American dream".

The question here is simple but sadly never asked in the debate: Who is racist here? Aren't both the sides equally culpable here? Both the sides do not want to be in Somalia nor in Attapadi so they besmirch it. Isn't this racism at its purest? Somalia here is not racially alluded to because of color but by showing how pathetic the conditions of life there are. The racism is here not when the allusion happens but this allusion here is a tool to dismiss anyone who exhibits such characteristics. Modi dismissed Kerala model of development citing Somalia while the opposition put forth charts and indexes to show how Kerala is the "American Dream" not the"Somalian Nightmare". What thus became a talking point was pure racism from both the sides and the situation of the Adivasis in Attapadi or the people living in Somalia was forgotten. If one has to draw the extreme conclusion this Kerala pride is based nothing other than racism at least minimally hatred for Somalians and for the Adivasis in Attapadi.


Seeing the Violence of Caste, Literally, Visually


Sruthi Herbert

I have a major deadline to meet next week, and this must be why all those things I feel I should write come to me at this moment.

Below is a screenshot from the movie Kammath & Kammath that released in Kerala in 2013. Before I go further, let me explain that I don't imagine for a second that the antics of the brothers in the movie might be an authentic representation of Gouda Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) or Kammath families and their body language. I am merely drawing attention to the story line and the corresponding visualization, the master narrative that can be seen not just in this, but many Malayalam movies.

kammath  kammath 1

In this scene, Mr Kammath, a GSB, sits watching his trusted assistant (in checkered shirt) beating up the enemies who want to stop him. The enemies, not surprisingly, have been sent by a Muslim restaurateur. Kammath is on his way to inaugurate his pure vegetarian hotel that serves different varieties of dosa. He is taking over from another Brahmin who has been wronged and put out of business by the Muslim man, and the reason he is taking over is because the land where the hotel stands cannot be sold to the Muslim restaurateur who is interested in buying it: there is a deity of Ganapati there. This deity requires pious (read Brahmin pious) worship and the ageing Brahmin landowner cannot bear to see it polluted.

Mr Kammath being a GSB, believes in non-violence (ahimsa), and therefore, will not beat up anyone. Between himself and his younger brother Kammath, they share a revolver and its bullets to detract enemies, but neither can shoot really! His trusted assistant is fed on a diet of beef, mutton and all other non-vegetarian food although the boss is a total vegetarian. This assistant has been picked up when he showed the Kammath brothers the man who ran over their father disabling him, thereby displaying a certain loyalty and honesty. He helped beat up the culprits in revenge, because GSB's are, er... historically non-violent. The caste of those who are fighting among themselves is not revealed (or may be it is, in the later part of the movie, but this was too obnoxious to watch) but their food habits, body language, and violent bend of mind defines them.


Custodians of Love


Swapnil Dhanraj

swapnil dhanrajRegressive social laws wield much more power over self-choice marriages/ love marriages today. Even few powerful politicians and educated parents do not dare to come out and demand action against 'social killings' of young people, and marriage outside one's caste. Many young people who are trapped in the unbearable and restricted rules of love and marriage are manipulated by the society and system. The continuous violence against couples and unlawful existence of 'Khap Panchayat' in hidden forms remains a challenging domain.

The recent Marathi film Sairat released on 29th April 2016, and selected for "66th International Film festival of Berlin", is a free-spirited story of a couple whose love cannot transcend the boundaries of social hierarchies. This is an epic love story that takes a critical look at the structural reality of caste hierarchy. Sairat (passion, zeal), unlike other Marathi films that begin to run around in circles after a point, has quite differently portrayed the reality of two lovers who come from different social locations and their struggle in facing the outside world's restriction on their love. Besides the love story, the film makes a strong comment on the social structures of our society which reminds us of the killings of young couples due to violation of the principles of a community or a religion.

 Nagraj's film powerfully delineates the beautiful side of love and heinous reality of caste. In the first part of movie, love blossoms between Archana and Parshya and a romantic chemistry is portrayed. The second half of the movie gives a radical departure from the first part where the rosy love story takes an ugly turn leading to a social drama. Their love is not accepted, but with the growing obstacle they face their relationship grows stronger. The girl, Archana(played by Rinku Rajguru) belongs to an affluent political family of the Patil (a Maratha landlord) in the village who is raised in all comforts. On the contrary, the hero, Parshya (played by Akash Thosar) belongs to a lower caste fisher community who helps his father catch the daily quota of fish.


Who creates money and why


Anandi Sharan

anandi sharanGovernment must control the creation of electronic money (credit), not as debt but as money spent into circulation to support every citizen, woman and child

I have written on this subject many times before, and though I am no expert I have been investigating for some time the question of who creates money and how and why.

Money is something that interests us all, especially when under capitalism companies such as the Coca Cola can get away with murder.

After some research over the years I found that the reason corporations are so powerful is that they are the conduit for channeling money not only into national economies but into the entire global economy. The system is that they who have the standing with banks can borrow money, and banks have by convention - because no one questions it - the legal right to create money out of thin air through loans to give to those who they think might repay it with interest.

The difference between public banks and private banks in this regard is that if it is a loan from a public bank the government can borrow money from somewhere else and get bad loans of public banks written off somewhere else - not even by co-opting public savings but by asking the RBI to cancel the debts that the government incurred for refinancing the public banks. Through these means the loans from public banks, if they are managed responsibly by a government through the RBI, may not hang around for years as a dead weight around the economy.


Euphoria and Caste: Ambedkarite Movement Seeks Annihilation of Dead Culture


Dr. Narendra Kumar Arya

narendra aryaI measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.
~ B.R. Ambedkar, Writings And Speeches

"Freedom of mind is the real freedom. A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains, is a slave, not a free man. One whose mind is not free, though he may not be in prison, is a prisoner and not a free man. One whose mind is not free though alive, is no better than dead. Freedom of mind is the proof of one's existence."
~ B.R. Ambedkar, Writings And Speeches

Mainstream media and Social media are exuberant with Tina Dabi's success in UPSC Exam of 2015. She is the first Dalit person to emerge as UPSC topper. That indeed is a very admirable achievement, more so because she hails from a chronically estranged, persecuted and discriminated Dalit community. She is an example of triumph against extreme denial and discrimination in a caste-contaminated society. Her iconic achievement is real and emancipatory at the same time in reference to two quotes of Babasaheb at the beginning of this essay. But to a radical Dalit and a true Ambedkarite intellectual, the singularity of this event to celebrate the cause of 'rare' intelligence and capability among Dalits should come more as an opportunity to reflect on the low level of self-esteem amongst us and reinforce a belief in the natural equality of Homo sapiens. Why do we tend to, and need to demonstrate that we are as intelligent and wise as caste-privileged people? We are, first and last, only humans, and nothing less. It reminds me of the words of iconic African-American abolitionist John S. Rock who was the first black person to be admitted to the bar at the Supreme Court of the United States. Rock would coin the term "Black is Beautiful" during a speech in 1858, reintroduced in the writings of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in his book, the "Black Consciousness Movement" in South Africa and later redefined by legends like Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad.


In search of a house to rent: Untouchability and humiliation I experienced today


Nagaraj Hettur

nagraj hettur

I have been searching for a house to rent in the Santinagar and Hemavati Nagar area of Hassan for the last 15 days.

I liked a house that I saw, which was near my daughter's school. When I called I was asked to come the next day. I informed Manjegowda, Hassan Branch President of Karnataka Sahitya Parishat who gave a recommendation to the owner to rent me the house. Manjegowda was told that as he was recommending there is no issue and I was asked to arrive first thing in the morning.

I had seen around 50 houses and I was excited and happy as I was convinced that Manjegowda's recommendation would help me in securing the house.

As soon as I woke up in the morning I drove in the car to Manjegowda's house, woke him up from his sleep and drove with him.

As Manjegowda was with me and the house belonged to a Gowda family I was confident I should get the house at least today.

I said OK to everything after seeing the house.

Coming out of the house I offered to pay the advance.

"What is your caste, sir,'' the owner asked directly in front of Manjegowda.

For a second I looked at Manjegowda.

He too was looking at me.


Is it 'Marx's agency' or 'Manu's Agency' that works in CPI-Ml (Liberation)?


Chinmaya Mahanand

(His reply to Chintu Kumari's (AISA) response to his Facebook comment on the hunger strike in JNU)

Dear Chintu Kumari,

Like you, I too felt the necessity to reply. I hope this assertion of your identity as a Dalit woman is not being considered as your 'immediate identity' by AISA/Liberation and by the collective left brigade. At the outset, I wish to state that, I didn't intend to hurt you. Rather, I have made an observation on your hunger strike photo which was posted by Kavita Krishnan. I had shared that post (you and your parent's picture) for the fact that I could relate to my immediate identity. However, I have realised that you have taken my points in ways I did not mean in that post. However, by any means if you are hurt, I am sorry for the same.

chinmaya mahanand

Before engaging with the allegations you raise on me, let me reiterate what I have written.

"Getting pain after seeing these pictures. I may be working in different organisation and we can have differences, still share so many things (including feelings, emotions) in common with Chintu and Ramo, what an upper caste shit can't understand at all. Want to tell one thing that Dalits fight for this upper caste led left organisations since its inception by giving their lives, careers and everything they have. But still they become alone in their own fight for survival. Still they become alone in fighting and dying,,,and the upper caste comrades keep on extending their token murderous solidarities every time. When dalits fight and works for yours organisation like manual labourers giving their entire time and energy, is it not your organisation's responsibility to save them in crisis instead of making them (victims) your guns and pushing them towards death. Our students are coming from the first generation unlike you with so many responsibilities, working in your organisations putting their career at risk and on the top you are pushing them for hunger strike till death instead of you doing. Shame on you. Sister Chintu Kumari and brother Ramo Nag may differ with me under your influence, no issue. But this is the realities."


Ambedkar does not need to be rescued


Nilesh Kumar

nilesh kumar 3Introduction

This year, the nation is celebrating Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's 125th Birth Anniversary. Dalits, Ambedkarite groups, non-governmental organizations largely run by Dalits, international bodies like United Nations (UN), some national and international universities, political parties like Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindu organisations like Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Congress, the various state governments - all have announced grand celebrations in the name of Dr. Ambedkar's birth anniversary in the form of building his statues etc. Since last year, Ambedkarites have been celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti at the Gateway of India (one of the historical places in Mumbai) close to the very famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, also one of the most important and posh public spaces in Mumbai. Even this year the celebration happened there and was extended to several other public spaces in the city, like Bandra-Kurla complex (BKC) grounds and other important public auditoriums. A lot of eminent personalities visited these spaces and addressed Ambedkarites on the occasion. The Ambedkar Jayanti celebration has become more than just an Indian phenomenon, for this year Ambedkar Jayanti was celebrated in more than 12 countries by the Dalit diaspora along with the Indian embassies. These grand celebrations will continue throughout the year.

Along with Dalits across the country, political parties and Ambedkarites in the diaspora, even the savarna media commemorated Dr. Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. Many newspapers and magazines dedicated special issues, pages and opinion pieces to Ambedkar, mostly to scrutinize Dalit politicians, organisations and entire Dalit communities. All that mostly meant savarna messiahs going gaga about how urgently we need Ambedkar now! This, after 125 years of his birth. The debates also included talk shows on different news channels, on several topics majorly around who is appropriating Ambedkar and who is not? The co-option of Ambedkar's ideals like Buddhism, iconisation of Ambedkar from the 'right' to the 'left' to the 'centre', featuring academic ideologues, or political commentators showing their discontent at the 'appropriation' of Ambedkar by Dalits and various political parties. Even people on social media trolled Dalits, especially those who have colluded with right wing political parties. In this context, several articles were written and published in several media portals and magazines. Among those, I would like to talk about a particular article published on the online portal First Post which was problematic in many ways.


Why Dalit Matters: A Dalit-American Argument for the Inclusion of “Dalit” in California Textbooks


Suthamalli Ganga

My name is Suthamalli Ganga and I am a proud Dalit American who has lived in the US for over seventeen years. Dalit is a term that is used for my people who were formerly known as Untouchable, but we see this word as an epithet and use Dalit instead, which refers to our struggle in the face of caste apartheid. I want to share my story to help those who want to know more about the erasure of Caste and Dalit that Thenmozhi Soundararajan wrote about in Erasing Caste.


When I moved to United States it was my hope that I could finally escape caste apartheid. All I wanted was to finally become a free man. That is why I was shocked by the statements of Hindu American Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation that Indians no longer practice caste. For my whole life has been shaped by being a Dalit and it continues to shape and influence my existence today.

It began when our family was forcibly displaced by poverty and caste discrimination from our village in Tamil Nadu. Because we were poor and Dalit, we ended up in Dharavi, one of the largest slums of Mumbai. There 'lower' castes had to remove their rubber slippers while crossing the streets where 'upper' caste people resided. We continually faced such indignities but we always met them with resistance. For example, my father was a key figure in Dharavi, organizing Dalit workers to fight for our basic right to keep our footwear on while crossing the unhygienic tar-lined streets.


'When is the 'revolution' going to come for Dalit Bahujans?'


Rahul Sonpimple

(His reply to an open letter addressed to him by Umar Khalid, student leader of JNU)

I am new to this culture of open letters, I wonder if I will get one after my every speech. At the outset, let me state that I am not writing this reply to defend myself, I will never defend myself in front of savarna leftists, who enjoy impunity in this red bastion. Silence, however, has never been an option in the dalit bahujan trajectory.

rahul at jnu

Umar, it seems that you are assuming that I am unaware of the terrorization and victimization that you and your family have gone through after the 9th Feb event. I am completely aware of how you were demonized and how your family, especially women in the family were targeted. I and BAPSA stood against this witch-hunting of you and your family and I will always stand against this kind of terrorization. Coming from an oppressed minority community myself, I understand how certain minority communities persecuted. There is no denying of the state oppression you faced, however, our political differences remain.

A careful reading of your letter emphasizes two major aspects, firstly, you mention about the caste practices and untouchability within the Muslims, and secondly, you write about the unified identity of Muslims and victimization of the community, irrespective of these differences. But you used the first argument to qualify the second argument where you transform yourself from the oppressor to the oppressed. This tendency of regarding religion as a monolithic whole is to be found even among the RSS, which acknowledges caste differences merely for the sake of it but presents Hindu as a monolith identity, which has been oppressed by the Muslims according to the RSS. Here, I can turn the table around and say that you are making similar kind of argument. Sadly, in your letter you have not highlighted a single case of caste discrimination practiced by upper-caste Muslims against the lower-caste Muslims, about which I spoke in my speech. The Pasmanda movement has always stood against such religious binary and vehemently criticized the self-serving politics of upper caste elite Muslims, when they say "Pichda pichda ek saman, hindu ho ya musalman". In your entire laboriously framed argument, where does the person who gives this slogan locate herself/himself?


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